by Akin Osuntokun
Calls for ‘Total’ Sharia in Nigeria
Lagos – A former military ruler of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has called for the introduction of ‘total’ Islamic law across the country, reports said on Monday.
Buhari, who ruled Nigeria from a coup in December 1983 to his ouster in 1985, told a seminar in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, at the weekend that the strict Islamic law code known as the Sharia should be introduced in full across Nigeria. “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria,” Buhari said, quoted in press reports.
“God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country,” Buhari said.
Africa’s most populous country has been shaken repeatedly in the past by religious unrest. In February 2000 between 2 000 and 3 000 people were killed by Christian-Muslim riots in Kaduna over the introduction of Sharia.
Buhari’s comments were interpreted by the southern-based papers as a call for the imposition of Sharia all across the country, even in the mainly Christian south. “Buhari calls for Sharia in all states,” was the headline of the respected newspaper The Guardian.
Buhari’s comments were defended by supporters as simply a call for the full implementation of Sharia in areas where Muslims predominated.But the comments are the second by Buhari that have courted controversy after he called earlier this year for Muslims to vote at the next presidential elections only for someone who would defend their faith.
This was criticised by the press as a call for voting along religious lines, as well as an attack on the current president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is a Christian. Buhari made the latest comments at a seminar organised by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, a newly set up body attended by northern state governments and Islamic scholars.
“What remains for Muslims in Nigeria is for them to redouble their efforts, educate Muslims on the need to promote the full implementation of Sharia law,” he went on. – AFP
In the main, Nigerians have been encouraged not to know their history. Often this is at the root of the poorly thought through decisions that are made by the citizens. My people suffer for lack of knowledge says the holy book. The saying that half knowledge can be worse than no knowledge at all equally speaks to the self-destructive perfunctory knowledge of the history of Nigeria exhibited by many Nigerians.
This impoverished background accounts for the superficiality generally exhibited in the appraisal of contemporary Nigeria. Understandably this trait is mostly discernable in the post-civil war generation of Nigerians-for a number of reasons.
First is the spatial-temporal cognition distance from what took place in Nigeria prior to 1970. Second is the social instability and discontinuity that ensued from the latter part of the 1980-1990 decade including a dramatic fall in the standard of education, the institutionalisation of corruption, precipitous decline in family values and moral upbringing, frenetic acceleration of the culture of get rich quick and corresponding lack of positive correlation between productivity and reward, distinct lack in the appreciation of education as intrinsic to self-actualisation and social development.
If it is not too late I will urge as many Nigerians as possible and who are in a position to do so-to avail themselves the opportunity of acquiring a working familiarity with critical phases of Nigeria’s history especially the civil war (1966-1970) phase, the annulment of the 1993 presidential election crisis (1993-1998) and the fourth republic-from 1999-.
In 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as President of Nigeria-in response to the pressure mounted largely by the South-West of Nigeria against the philosophy that the political leadership of Nigeria is vested in the custodial beck and call of the conservative wing of the ‘Northern’ Nigeria political establishment-to bestow or denied as it wishes.
I will not be able to characterise this interpretation here in view of the space available and I do not believe it is necessary to do so. The interpretation has been stated and restated repeatedly in prior write-ups, which were not by any means limited to my pen.
In august 2002 I was appointed the Director of media and publicity of President Obasanjo’s re-election campaign of 2002-2003. I interpreted my appointment and role as providing intellectual leadership to the campaign-in which capacity I was required to have an expert understanding of his stewardship as President and complement this with versatile knowledge of opposition candidates and platforms.
The most tasking crisis of his presidency was the violent upheaval instigated by the introduction and incorporation of the Sharia penal code into the jurisprudence of the Moslem dominated states of Northern Nigeria. In acknowledgement and discernment of the crisis as orchestrated and directed against him by disaffected members of Northern political elite, Obasanjo did not swallow the bait of being lured into a divisive political confrontation.
He rightly formulated the purported Sharia religious fervour as political ruse-he coined it political sharia; and predicted that if it was not truly of Allah, the movement would fade away and it did. The two personalities who personified the avant-garde of the Sharia crisis were the Zamfara state Governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima and former military head of state General Mohammadu Buhari.
From the Zamfara state localized ambition of the Governor, Buhari took the baton and spearheaded its generalization and spread over the far North Moslem sub-region. In the process, he rose to fill an apparent leadership vacuum within the hierarchy of the Northern Political elite. For someone of this background and given his utterances on the Boko-Haram insurgency crisis (until political correctness dictated otherwise) the logical observation that can be made is that Buhari has acted true to type.
The enthusiasm to assume the regional warlord role was originally motivated by the animus generated by the decision of Obasanjo to institute an inquiry into the books of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, established by the late General Sani Abacha and presided over by Buhari.
Between former President Obasanjo and Malam Haroun Adamu the story of this inquiry will be better told, suffice to say that the newly inaugurated Obasanjo was sufficiently dissatisfied as to deem it necessary to invite his erstwhile junior colleague to give clarification and explanation. And most certainly, the encounter did not end on a cordial note.
In characteristic sour humour and negative symbolism, Obasanjo pointedly proceeded to reassign the PTF premises to the newly established Independent Corruption Practises Commission, ICPC. This may be an inconvenient reminder but I have certainly not said anything that was not out in the public domain at the material time.
My personal opinion of Buhari is that he is a relatively corruption free Nigerian leader but nobody should go around contrasting him with his successors and predecessors as an isolated oasis of integrity in an expansive dessert crawling with king termites of wanton corruption.
The novelty in my first encounter with one of his much pilloried successors was the revelation that he (the successor) secreted away boxes of the reports of an inquiry into the countertrade policies of his predecessor. In the generosity of his heart he would not be party to washing the dirty linen of any of his colleagues in the public.
Again the successor military president is still alive and those who feel rubbed the wrong way by this recall may want to have a word with him. You see, fair is fair, and Nigerians are entitled to the consciousness of all available records and information on their leaders especially those trumpeting themselves and being trumpeted as a cut apart from the rest.
The tiff over the PTF inquiry was the backdrop to what then followed as nothing short of Buhari’s personal campaign of destabilisation of the Obasanjo presidency. He did this by channelling the embers of an ostensible Sharia fervour into a regional casus belli against the newly installed president.
In the fullness of the insurrection and all too predictably he emerged the regional hero and went on to nurture this status with intermittent parochial outbursts pandering to the persecution complex of untutored and religion-obsessed minds of a teeming almajiri and talakawa populace.
And here lies my fundamental objection to the presidential ambition of the APC candidate-any leader who attains to political prominence through the instrumentality of dividing and polarising the peoples of Nigeria should never be rewarded with the presidency of this country.
And it is in this respect that a no less historical figure than the late Ahmadu Bello was basically a much more honest leader than Buhari. An avowed Northern irredentist, Bello did not make political virtue of moral equivocation by claiming entitlement to the office of the prime-minister of Nigeria (as expected of the leader of the majority party by the norms of Westminister-parliamentary model). He delegated that honour and responsibility to his more temperamentally suited deputy, Tafawa Balewa.
The in-house argument within the Afenife-AD caucus against the preferment of the late Chief Bola Ige for the national office of the President rested on a similar plank-that the legitimate perception of him as a parochial Yoruba champion is non-sequitur to Nigerian presidential aspiration-hence the preference for his more cosmopolitan rival, Olu Falae. Even though the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not as explicit as Buhari in cultivating recognition as sectional champion yet he was proportionately made to pay for his national non-inclusiveness.
One area I am in accord with general Buhari is that he is not a fundamentalist. The ascription of fundamentalism presupposes the element of honest and sincere commitment to ‘the belief or advocating of a conservative adherence to literal or traditional interpretations of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah’-whereas a demagogue is ‘a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people’.
All manners of mindless claims of Buhari’s sainthood are being circulated on the social media including a particular character reference purportedly by Obasanjo-making the most improbable claim that he and Buhari are the only two honest Nigerians! Stupefied by callers wondering whether this could be possible true I averted the attention of the former president to the hoax. He promptly and angrily disavowed the attribution. Nigerians please shine your eyes well – lest you get sold a counterfeit.
Akin Osuntokun is a writer and was one-time Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN. He also served as Political Adviser to former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.